How High-Quality Content Can Shorten the B2B Buyer’s Journey
Mar 08, 2016 / By Vanessa Horwell
Business development pros in B2B sectors are well accustomed to long sales cycles, no matter where their leads or prospects originate from. In fact, while “lead source” remains a well tracked element in the digital ‘Sales 2.0’ ecosystem, it can be a misleading concept.
Many high-quality leads “originate” from their own online research – which may take place long before they ever make contact with a company or its sales arm. That behavior requiring B2B stakeholders’ to shift their collective focus away from the traditional “sales cycle” to a new model: the “buyer’s journey.”
It’s a journey that primarily happens independently: Research from SiriusDecisions estimates that 70% of the buyer's journey is complete before the buyer connects to sales. That can create myriad challenges for B2B organizations – many of whom rely on outdated approaches that assume buyers enter the sales funnel with little or no existing intel on the vendor-seller.
In this changing business-development environment, closing B2B sales more quickly requires ongoing investment in strategies that (1.) better inform and educate buyers before they enter the sales funnel; and (2.) keep leads engaged throughout the decision-making process. The best tool for doing that: content.
High-quality content enables B2B companies to influence buyers before even knowing who they are. In addition, it can drive the kind of meaningful engagement that takes leads from ‘captured’ to ‘converted’ more rapidly – here’s how.
Using Content to Educate, Influence, and Convert
While the traditional sales cycle (and each of its seven stages) remains structurally important to the business development process, understanding what the “buyer’s journey” entails can help B2B stakeholders drive stronger sales results.
At the micro level, every individual buyer’s journey is different. At the macro level, however, Salesforce Pardot has identified a broad, three-phase framework of Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. As we outline below, content can play a significant role in a sales organization’s success in all three stages.
Phase 1: Awareness
The typical buyer’s interest and information level are hardest to generalize in this earliest phase. Some buyers have a keen understanding, early on, of the business challenge or pain point they want to address through a purchase; others may be entirely unaware of the problem or the solutions available to solve it.
Driving a prospect from Point Unaware (of their need, of your company) to Point Aware (of both) is the marketing goal in this stage of the process. Content that’s educational, rather than promotional, can drive that awareness.
If it’s focused on industry developments or challenges, high-quality informational content – such as bylined articles in trade publications, data-driven infographics, or original reports and other downloadable resources – can help buyers become cognizant of the pain points they face or the business opportunities they can they seize through new solutions. (This is especially valuable for companies in emerging industries, or in sectors affected by recently-changed laws and regulations.)
In addition, educational content can help organizations win leads in the chief B2B fighting ring of Google search, where 72% of buyers turn for research (according to Pardot). The more informational and search-engine-optimized material you have spidered around the web, the more likely you are to seize buyers’ awareness and interest via search results… instead of your competition doing the same.
Phase 2: Consideration
Armed with a little more information on what they need or want, buyers enter the consideration phase with an eye for narrowing the market. This is the point where B2B prospects often determine which vendors belong on their short lists and begin making contact with the ones who best fit their needs.
As such, the marketing goal of this phase is to convince prospects of why you do – or don’t – belong on their shortlist. Buyers in consideration are figuring out what features and functionality are most important to them. Content provides an avenue for vendors to help them make those determinations.
For one, inclusion in analyst reports helps vendors showcase their various tools and services to interested buyers (as do ‘reposts’ of noteworthy analyst coverage on a company’s branded blog). Persuasive branded content helps, too – think buyer checklists, whitepapers, and blog posts on “questions to ask your vendor” and related topics. Multimedia resources, such as bite-size product demo videos, can also be especially useful, since they provide an opportunity to show off your system in action without placing pressure on the buyer to interact with the sales team.
They key is to make sure prospects are continually influenced by your content – which requires actually delivering it to them. Consideration, by nature, leads to comparison among vendors; once a prospect makes contact with your organization, be sure to use smart lead nurturing tactics to share content with them over time and make sure they stay engaged with you (not your competitors) as they begin seeking input and approval from upper management.
Phase 3: Decision
As those upper-level decision-makers start weighing in on the purchase, the more traditional “biz dev” efforts begin: presenting the product/solution; handling any buyer objections; and closing the sale. Those tasks remain the responsibility of the salesperson(s) driving the overall journey – but smart content should help him or her navigate the last few miles of the deal successfully.
The aim of marketing in this third and final phase is to support sales and help push the buyer across the finish line. Conversion-oriented content is key to buyer decisioning. For example, strong customer testimonials and case studies can help a lead realize the value of the solution in practice; cost breakdown guides and ROI calculators can support negotiations and lessen any sticker shock.
Closing a sale also requires helping the buyer understand what they’re in for after purchase. Simplified implementation plans and user guides can get buyers thinking beyond the ‘buy’ and mitigate concerns about long onboarding timelines or complex functionality.
Ultimately, that’s the most important thing about the buyer’s journey: for the buyer, it never ends. Content helps establish the trust necessary to take a prospect from lead to buyer to long-term partner – and when deployed as part of a smart, comprehensive Sales 2.0 strategy, quality content can get the buyer and vendor into a long-term relationship more quickly.
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